On the Heels of Fashion Month, Ukrainian Designer Svitlana Bevza Reflects on a Whirlwind

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Fashion

The designer and founder of Kyiv-based label Bevza chatted with ‘Surface’ about an unprecedented fashion month, the support she’s received from all corners of the fashion community, and what she loves about New York City.

Svitlana Bevza. All photos courtesy of Bevza. Credit: Andrew Grey.

It’s been a demanding year for Svitlana Bevza. Back in February, the Ukrainian fashion designer had scarcely returned to her hometown Kyiv after showing her Fall 2022 collection at New York Fashion Week, before the country was invaded by Russia. Since then, the 40-year-old designer and founder of the namesake label Bevza has moved her two children and part of her business to Portugal while continuing to fill orders for the likes of Selfridges, Bergdorf Goodman, and Moda Operandi. Her garments, with a sleek edge tempered by her command of drape that verges on ethereal, are complemented by eye-catching jewelry that’s graced the Instagram grid of many a fashion editor.

For six months, the designer and her team were hard at work on the Spring 2023 collection, which debuted at New York Fashion Week in September. In the following interview, Svitlana tells Surface about creating a collection entirely through video calls, the support she’s received from fashion industry titans like Celine to Anna Wintour, and why she still shows in New York City every year.

How was fashion month this year? 

Well, they say it’s been okay! We had, I suppose, a successful show. It took extra effort this time. The processes were completely different from what we used to do before. Then, I visited our showrooms in New York and in Paris, where Conde Nast held an event for Ukrainian designers. That was a huge support for us. Anna Wintour came. Can you imagine that? My God!

I know you’re based in Portugal now, but what have the past six months been like for you as the designer of a label with its heart in Kyiv?

For the first month and a half of the war, we couldn’t do anything. Production was blocked because we couldn’t access our warehouse. The roads were blocked. Right before the war, we had to dispatch deliveries to our buyers. Ninety percent of our sales are made abroad and we couldn’t make deliveries because the planes stopped flying and at first no ground transport could come to Ukraine. But I received huge support from the buyers because they didn’t cancel their orders. They all said We can wait.

Svitlana’s recurring references to spikelets, which are “representative of the wheat that feeds Ukraine,” according to the designer, resulted in her Spikelet of Hope campaign. The shoot showcases the clothing, handbags, and spikelet jewelry of her Spring 2023 collection and was shot on-site in August at the Kulinichi bread factory in Ukraine.

What happened after those first six weeks?

We risked reopening. We finally got access to the warehouse and started packing [orders] and somehow, delivered them. We reopened the website and posted a message on the main page saying that “We’re currently open for some period of time.” But then we understood that things were going [forward] somehow in Kyiv so we didn’t close again. We had earrings, pendants, and necklaces with spikelets, which are the main symbol of Ukraine as it is a very fertile land and it’s one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat. People started massively buying the jewelry; women and their husbands who stayed in Ukraine, Ukrainians who left the country—they just needed something symbolic. It was one of the key things that saved the business.

After getting settled in Portugal, it would have been completely understandable to take a season off and just get your bearings. What kept you going?

Well, it’s my job. It’s my favorite, but it is also a responsibility. My husband is now in the Ukrainian army so I’m the person who feeds the family. I have two kids who have to go to school. My business has to go on. My team was a big responsibility because they have jobs now. They earn money as our factory is also in Ukraine. I thought I would have to produce everything in Portugal but then after a few months, factories reopened in Ukraine. They called and told me to give them the orders.

How did you manage the demands of the fashion calendar while also moving your operations to a different country? 

With the managers, we could work online from any country but it was a risk for the technical team—my atelier and the tailors I’m usually working with in person to develop the collection. All of the spring-summer collection was done by video calls, and I sent sketches. When I flew to Ukraine in August to shoot the lookbook it was the first time I saw the collection. My team members are my personal heroes. 

“In my work, I always emphasize that I am from Ukraine, how important our land is and what we are fighting for,” Svitlana says. “I created the spikelets in the Bevza collections back in 2018. And now it is very relevant because the right to live peacefully on our land, which we are fighting for, is directly related to these spikelets—the wheat harvest.”

Are any items from your recent collection made in Portugal?

I found factories that produce perfect leather bags, t-shirts for Balenciaga, and bags for Jacquemus and Coperni. There is one factory that works mainly with Khaite so they’re very good with quality. We did four dresses and two t-shirts made there, and with the dresses there was a very generous gesture of support from Celine early in the summer. A Ukrainian lady who is Celine’s head of merchandising offered fabric. I went to their warehouse, and they just gave me the fabrics that were used for those four dresses. 

You’re quite close to the European shows, but you’ve continued to present in New York. What does the fashion community here mean to you?

When I first thought about entering a global fashion week, I thought about New York. I didn’t think about Paris at the time, and now we’ve showcased in New York for 11 seasons. I have to ask myself very deep inside: Why not Paris? But I love to deal with Americans because everything is on time and their answers are very straight. Financially, the American market is very interesting but I love New York. It’s so special. 

What are your favorite spots in New York? 

The MoMA store. When I get there, I’m just like, oh my god, I will spend all my money! Then I go across the street to Balthazar and drink coffee or have lunch so it is my time in New York. If I go there between Fashion Weeks, I love the Guggenheim Museum and the burgers at the restaurant there but during Fashion Week I don’t have free time to discover the city. 

“This story highlights the work of people who provide bread for our entire country,” shoot stylist Anton Belinsky says. “It was very important for me to convey this precious, incredible smell of fresh bread from the oven and the frantic work that usually remains behind the scenes.”

You’ve mentioned in interviews that the rest of the fashion community has been incredibly supportive. What are some examples of that? 

There were the fabrics Celine gave me, and buyers’ patience. There’s a factory that was booked but found space for us and produced our samples in the middle of the season. Moda Operandi hosted a trunk show, which is still going on, featuring the spikelet jewelry. Lauren Santo Domingo messaged me on Instagram and we launched it on September 13, the day of the fashion show. It was amazing.

But at the same time, I understand that even with the support my duty is to make a good product. Buyers just don’t order things they don’t like. It’s business. They have to make sales. I have a responsibility, when I do the show, to pay for the models, the venue, etc. 

You’ve used wheat as a motif and created  pieces evocative of bulletproof vests. What themes, symbols, or ideas do you want to explore in your next collection?

I never talk about the next collection. I have ideas but for me it’s not easy to tell until it’s finished. But it will be connected to Ukraine. I think it’s a dream of every Ukrainian designer to connect their work with victory, but we don’t know. There’s a lot of white in the spring/summer collection because white means hope to me. I didn’t want to do drama. I wanted to show what we’re fighting for and that’s why this past collection was around wheat. 

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